Examination Litigation

The college admissions process suffered another blow to its reputation this past month when parents of students who took an online version of the College Board’s Advanced Placement (“AP”) exams filed a class action lawsuit against the testing giant.

In addition to administering the SAT college entrance exam, the College Board brings collegiate level curriculum to high school students through their AP courses. Students who enroll in AP courses can sit for examinations in the spring of each school year in the hope of earning college credit for their studies. Approximately three million tests are taken each spring, and success on the exams translates to significant savings on college tuition.

AP examinations are generally given in person, but with nationwide shelter-in-place orders in effect this spring, the College Board was faced with a dilemma: cancel the tests altogether and refund the $90 exam fee for each of the millions of tests or find another way to administer them. With students eager to take the exams and the College Board financially dependent on giving them, it was decided to create an online version of the tests. The revised tests required students to upload either a photo of handwritten answers or a document file containing their answers to the College Board website within a five-minute window at the end of the testing period. What ensued has been categorically touted as one of the biggest debacles in educational history.

Thousands of students tried to upload answers at the same time, leading the College Board’s system to fail. When students frantically took screenshots of their answers and submission error messages in the hope of showing that they had earnestly completed the exam, the College Board refused to accept anything not submitted via their established process, offering only a make-up exam weeks later. Backlash ensued. The College Board ultimately offered a secure email for submission of answers to students taking later exams, but students who had trouble the first week were left with the choice of spending additional time preparing under highly stressful circumstances and retaking the tests, or forfeiting their testing fee and the opportunity to earn college credit.

The plaintiffs’ allegations in the lawsuit over the testing include breach of contract, gross negligence, misrepresentation, and violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. They seek $500 million dollars in compensatory damages, plus punitive damages and the right to submit the students’ original answers for credit.

What will come of the suit remains to be seen, but with both the College Board and the ACT planning to develop online versions of their college entrance exams, parents of high school students should keep watch for the outcome, which is almost certain to affect the college application process.